There’s been lots of buzz this week about Demand Planning in Retail after the release of a report by the Auburn University Centre for Supply Chain Innovation. Titled “The State of the Retail Supply Chain,” the report sees Supply Chain executives from across Retail weighing in on emerging issues and trends in Demand Planning.
As a boutique recruiter specializing in Supply Chain, we at Argentus have noticed a distinct uptick in companies looking to hire Demand Planners. It’s also a job category where the market for talent is particularly tight, especially at the entry-level and junior end, leading to high salaries. So much so that we kind of wish we could go into every high school and business undergraduate classroom in the country and shout: “Go into Demand Planning! It’s interesting work with huge career prospects going forward!” For some reason, young people still aren’t aware of the immense potential of Demand Planning as a career path and how its huge value to companies offers a quick path to leadership roles.
But that’s part of why we’re here: to spread the word.
As we’ve written about before, a Demand Planner is (simply put) a person who forecasts the volume and origin of demand for their company’s products so that the company knows how much product to make. Demand Planners look at a huge number of factors, from seasonal variations in demand, to changes in price, to competitors’ behaviour, to marketing activity, to wider trends in the economy, with the goal of predicting the (almost) unpredictable. It’s a highly analytical profession that touches on a lot of aspects of a business, from Sales to Marketing to Supply Planning. It’s also highly impactful, because poor Demand Planning can lead to huge write downs (if a demand forecast is too generous) or product shortages (if a forecast is too modest), and successful Demand Planning leads to huge gains in Supply Chain efficiency.
The Auburn report, released in conjunction with the Retail Industry Leaders Association, dug into emerging Demand Planning issues in the fast-changing, high-competition Retail industry to see how the function is performing. The biggest headline:
“Demand Planning has become an enigma for Supply Chain professionals.”
Yikes. The reason for this isn’t that Supply Chain professionals aren’t good at their jobs (trust us, they are), but that the world of Retail is booming in its level of complexity. There are rising amounts of SKUs to forecast, increased variation in pricing, and customers’ increasing fickleness in terms of where they shop. And of course, there’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room: the need to integrate data about eCommerce with brick and mortar data to avoid falling behind in the emerging Omnichannel retail environment.
In interviews with dozens of Retail Supply Chain executives, the authors of the report found this last issue coming up again and again; companies need to do a better job of integrating all their data into the Demand Planning function, from in-store demand to online demand. The goal is a model that’s able to account not just for aggregate demand for a company’s products, but for the different origins of that demand: region, store, and channel. According to the survey, 80% of retailers are working to beef up their Demand Planning by integrating the function in this way. Tons of companies are realizing the need for a single, streamlined Demand Planning process that can account for the complexities that different channels of retail offer.
The explosion of eCommerce has completely upended the Retail industry. Companies are moving to an Omnichannel model where the online Supply Chain is intertwined with brick and mortar to improve logistics and customer service – improving in-store pickups, last mile delivery and other things that can help retailers get ahead in this competitive industry. But Omnichannel offers even more complexity, and even more data, so that Demand Planners who can forecast in this environment are worth their weight in gold.
Some other key findings from the report:
- 63% of retail executives surveyed agree that their ability to forecast store demand is excellent.
- 37% report functional boundaries within their organization for Demand Planning.
- 61% agree that eCommerce complicates Demand Planning.
- 69% aren’t confident in their organizations’ eCommerce Demand Planning.
- 73% aren’t confident that their organizations’ technologies effectively support demand planning for eCommerce.
When you consider that Retail accounts for around 13% of Canada’s economy and 14.5% of the U.S. economy, it becomes pretty clear why companies are seeking skilled Demand Planners more than ever. Retail is a constantly-evolving industry with constant disruption and increasing complexity, and the top Demand Planners can slice through the data to keep a company ahead of the game. As the report says, “the pursuit of Supply Chain excellence and best-in-class capabilities is a never-ending mountain climb.”
So is there more that your organization can be doing to help climb that mountain and stay competitive?
Maybe it’s time to take a look.
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